On the Road With Oregon Bounty – Day 5: The Artisan Cheese Honor Bar
On a quiet country road west of Redmond, just a few miles from where I grew up, there’s the quintessential testament to Oregon Bounty. Actually, it’s more of a test…of your will to find this secluded spot, and your honor once you arrive. I knew this place well. It was one of the routes where my mom and I would drive slowly, hunting wild asparagus in the lava rock-lined ditches along the roadside. As a teenager, I would pedal my Schwinn Stingray down to the nearby Deschutes River.
The welcoming crew of dairy goats in the pasture out front and a simple sign at the beginning of a long red gravel driveway let you know you’ve found the right place. Tucked into a stand of juniper trees at the end of that driveway is a small rustic building with an even smaller wooden sign that says “Cheese Shop.” Open the door and you’ll find what has to be Oregon’s only artisan goat cheese honor bar. Grab a wedge or two, drop your money in the slot, and be on your way. There are no tours or factory outlet store, and the genial greeter is a dog sleeping out front.
That’s the essence of Juniper Grove Farm.
In 1987, Pierre Kolisch decided to buy a small farm “on a whim.” He chose Central Oregon because he loved to ski. Back then, goat cheese was a bit of an anomaly for Oregonian’s palates, and the state’s culinary scene was still in its infancy. Pierre had spent time in France, learning the nuances of goat’s milk and the centuries-old techniques of cheese making. The most important lesson was that great cheese had to be handmade.
I was fortunate to be welcomed into the inner workings of the Juniper Grove Farm cheese operation. Actually, it consists of a single vat, where Pierre uses a large wooden paddle to stir the whey into curds every day that his 150-head herd of goats produces enough milk. That’s several times a week, except late December through mid-February, when the goats’ lactation cycles shut down. Pierre has been living that rhythm now for over 20 years.
The new generation of chefs who began raising Oregon’s culinary bar in the early 1990s discovered Juniper Grove and started featuring its cheeses on menus as part of the new drive to cook local. Through word-of-mouth, retail outposts and chefs in the country’s other culinary outposts discovered this small farm and its line of silky goats cheeses, like Cumin Tomme, Gruyere by Goat, and Raw Milk Goat Feta. Fortunately, they’re just an overnight Fed Ex shipment away.
Even though Juniper Grove is well known throughout the country, the operation remains modest, consisting of just Pierre, an assistant cheese maker, and a few milkers. He admits he could get bigger if he tried, but doesn’t necessarily have the time or the inclination to get out and market. He knows that if you have a good map, and are willing to take a little country-road detour, you’ll be the only sales force he really needs.
Learn more about culinary attractions like Juniper Grove Farms and the chefs who are creating menus highlighting artisan products such as those created by Pierre. Check back tomorrow when I take a 300-mile culinary tour of Eastern Oregon. Cheers!
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